What is the impact of processed food on modern society, and how does it affect our lives?
Now more than ever is the time for us to understand the impact of processed food. We need to be strengthening our immune systems, and paying attention to the foods that we feed our bodies.
So what is processed food all about?
Food processing is an ancient process of turning agricultural products into actual food. These primitive process’s allowed humans throughout the ancient world the option to preserve their foods for longer, improve them, and ensure their societies were well-nourished.
A brief and interesting history includes that the Egyptians used salt for 4,000 years to extend the shelf life of food. Later on in ancient sites in Italy, Russia, and the Czech Republic, there was evidence that early humans pounded cattails and ferns into flour and mixed it with water to bake bread. (https://www.organicconsumers.org/essays/how-processed-foods-wreak-havoc-your-health)
Processed foods now have a different connotation in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Almost everything we have eaten since ancient times has been processed to some degree in order for us to have a more healthy and diverse diet. However, a significant increase in food processing customs was seen as the world faced more military conflicts in the last century.
Products such as tins and cans played an important part in the diet of military troops who needed to have affordable food available for themselves for undetermined periods of time. It was important that the food was easy to transport to the battlefield and would not perish in harsh conditions.
To better understand the change in the food processing story, let us look at a brief background. We see three main processing phases.
The Primary Phase-Processed Food
The Primary phase is the very first stage of changing the form of agricultural products. It’s turning raw materials into food commodities such as freezing fresh fruits or milling wheat into flour. These are easy and relatable examples of primary processing. Cutting, cleaning, packaging, storage, and refrigeration of raw foods are all very common primary processing practices. This is to prevent the foods from spoiling before they reach the consumers.
This initial step sits at the core of the global food industry. It is essential to ensure the raw products we produce from agriculture, as well as animals harvested and fishing catches, are ready to be introduced to the Secondary Phase.
According to PFP (Primary Food Processors), “The primary food processing industry uses around 220 million tonnes of agricultural raw commodities (cereals, sugar beet, rape-seeds, soybeans, sunflower seeds, crude vegetable oil, starch potatoes, cocoa beans…) a year, employing over 120,000 people in Europe.” (https://www.pfp-eu.org/)
The Secondary Phase-Processed Food
The secondary phase represents all processes we undertake to convert raw products into more edible, useful, and healthy products. Refining, purifying, extracting are ways to develop processed dairy, edible oils, starches or sugars, as well as sweeteners.
“Secondary food processes may vary depending on the type of food group. It could include physical processes such as pressing, milling, and dehydration. As well as chemical processes such as hydrolysis, hydrogenation or using enzymes” (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/food-supply-systems/0/steps/53648). This process is also used to enhance certain food products by adding vitamins, probiotics, or minerals which allows people access to healthier food options.
The Tertiary Phase-Processed Food
The tertiary phase is what most people nowadays associate with the term “processed food”.It is the most recent processing phase which the global food industry relies on to transport and preserve foods for extremely long periods of time.
This was the birth of the ready-to-eat meals and fast-food phase. Unfortunately, this is too often where we see the excess of salt and sugar, and the lack of fiber and actual nutritional values that the human body needs for nourishment.
There is research that reveals that “processed foods make up as much as 70 percent of people’s diets. Meaning only 30 percent of what they consume consists of wholesome, natural, or organic foods!” (https://www.organicconsumers.org/essays/how-processed-foods-wreak-havoc-your-health)
Even though the term “processed food” has had a negative connotation in the past decades, it is important to understand the difference between all processing stages and methods. This gives better insights into what should be avoided.
The primary and secondary processing phases have always played an important role in the way our eating habits have changed and they contributed to the improvement of our diet and lifestyle. It also allowed us to store and preserve food at its nutritional peak for longer periods of time. This has not only made our favorite foods available at our most convenient time but also helped avoid food waste.
It is the ultra-processed foods in the tertiary phase that are more damaging to our health, and which has sadly become a larger part of our diets. This is unfortunately too common all over the globe, but especially in the more affluent western societies.
While large global companies promote convenience,ultra-processed foods come with consequences. As well as the satisfying taste of foods such as potato chips, cookies, candies, etc, these products can and have lead to obesity, nutrient deficiencies, diabetes, as well as other diseases. This modern epidemic of unhealthy food choices can ultimately result in serious health consequences.
These foods can be intentionally addictive. They stimulate dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that affects your brain. Manufacturers are fully aware of this and may actually engineer their products to produce this “delicious” yet unhealthy effect. (Michael Moss details this in his book, “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.”)
It is so important to know that there are food products that you can replace with healthier alternatives. Better choices and are just as easily accessible.
Here are some examples of processed food. What is your preferred choice?
Soda and sugary drinks
Many fruit juices and sodas we find on the shelves are made with incredible amounts of sugar. They are certainly not beneficial to our long-term health. A first step to finding an alternative to drinking soda may be in determining what you are craving. If it’s a fruit, you can have a fresh fruit of your choice instead of drinking juice.
A common mistake people make is replacing water with other liquids. We need water in order to survive and for our organs to function properly. If you would like to have something else to drink, you can try teas, flavored water, and a bit of coffee, without neglecting the daily water amount you should drink.
Margarine is full of trans fats, which are considered to be even unhealthier than saturated fat. They have been linked to severe heart diseases and even stroke. It was once commonly believed that it is healthier than traditional butter, but this is not the case anymore. Whether you choose to switch to regular butter or completely replace it with mashed avocado, you will be doing a great favor to yourself.
This infamous meal is a classic for college students who are looking for a quick, tasty, and cheap meal. However, in excess quantities, it may be bad for your health and it can affect your blood pressure because of its high amounts of sodium and fat.
Try making your own soup. It is still affordable, delicious, only this time, you will actually nourish your body with great nutrients. There are so many options for soup recipes out there, whether it’s a zucchini noodle soup, lentil soup, or the always delicious chicken soup. It is always nearly guaranteed to be an amazing meal!
It is so important to understand the connection between what we eat and our decision-making as eaters. The one will always affect the other.
If you are looking to learn more about processed food, nutrition, developing better eating habits, and how to improve your lifestyle, Nourishment Vitality can help you.
Nourishment Vitality’s programs can be customized for your own needs. Your body and personal style are at the core of our programs. We believe in working together towards a healthier way of living. Eating habits should become a place of exploration and discovery, and not your downfall.
Taking steps to develop healthy behaviors can have a positive overall impact on your physical and mental well-being. At Nourishment Vitality we focus not only on the nutritional aspect of what you are eating but also focus on who you are as an eater
We are here to help you see things from a different perspective. You will learn to see these challenges not as adversity, but as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement.
At Nourishment Vitality, our goals are to encourage you to experience a healthier lifestyle. Nourishment Vitality is a 360 health & wellness platform specializing in stress, anxiety & nutritional psychology.